Tag: Racism

Street Sinks Stalled, Racism in Renton, and an Election Lightning Round

1. Last year, after the COVID pandemic forced the closure of most public and publicly accessible restrooms across the city, advocates for people experiencing homelessness suggested a creative approach to help stop the spread of COVID: Cheap, portable handwashing sinks that could be installed in any location with access to a public water outlet.

The first Street Sink, a collaboration between Real Change and the University of Washington College of Built Environments, was installed outside the ROOTS young-adult shelter in the University District last May. The prototype consisted of a basic utility sink with a soap dispenser that drained into a steel trough filled with soil and water-loving plants.

The Seattle City Council added $100,000 to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposed 2021 budget for a street-sink pilot project last November, hoping to capitalize on the success of the prototype and expand the sinks to neighborhoods across the city. Since then, though, the project has stalled.

According to communications between staff for Seattle Public Utilities, the Department of Neighborhoods, and street-sink proponents, the city has a range of outstanding concerns, including the environment (the soil-based system is not equipped to deal with “blackwater,” or unfiltered human waste), the weather (if left unwrapped, the sinks’ pipes may not be able to withstand a hard freeze), and accessibility (the sinks, though wheelchair-accessible, are not fully ADA compliant. Neither, for that matter, are many of the city’s public restrooms).

“It’s incredibly frustrating, because we’re getting bogged down in process instead of acting with urgency” to provide people living unsheltered with soap and water to prevent the spread of communicable diseases, Tiffani McCoy, the lead organizer for Real Change, said. Since the pandemic began, there have been repeated outbreaks of hepatitis A and other communicable diseases among the city’s homeless population; in the case of a recent shigella outbreak, the rise in cases coincided with the regular winter closure of public restrooms with running water. The city provides portable toilets in locations where restrooms are closed, but these “sanicans” are not equipped with sinks and often lack hand sanitizer.

Support PubliCola

If you’re reading this, we know you’re someone who appreciates deeply sourced breaking news, features, and analysis—along with guest columns from local opinion leaders, ongoing coverage of the kind of stories that get short shrift in mainstream media, and informed, incisive opinion writing about issues that matter.

We know there are a lot of publications competing for your dollars and attention, but PubliCola truly is different. We cover Seattle and King County on a budget that is funded entirely by reader contributions—no ads, no paywalls, ever.

Being fully independent means that we cover the stories we consider most interesting and newsworthy, based on our own news judgment and feedback from readers about what matters to them, not what advertisers or corporate funders want us to write about. It also means that we need your support. So if you get something out of this site, consider giving something back by kicking in a few dollars a month, or making a one-time contribution, to help us keep doing this work. If you prefer to Venmo or write a check, our Support page includes information about those options. Thank you for your ongoing readership and support.

The prototype for the Street Sink cost about $400. A more detailed budget puts the cost of each sink at just over than $750. More elaborate sinks with sewer connections or barrel collection systems would cost significantly more; last year, for example, Seattle Makers proposed a stainless-steel handwashing station that includes collection barrels, electronic sensors, a GPS connection, and components “built to withstand abuse from hammers,” for whatever reason, all at a cost of $7,250 per sink.

McCoy says $100,000 would fund the installation of 63 street sinks around the city. But the city seems unlikely to use the prototype her group designed. Instead, according to emails from the city’s Department of Neighborhoods, the city is planning to “pivot” away from the Street Sink project to a new “expanded mutual aid opportunity – the Community Water and Waste Innovation Pilot” that will “facilitate solutions that meet our safety and regulatory guidelines. For example, we will match sink prototypes without safety and blackwater issues to Real Change, or another implementing organization.”

PubliCola has reached out to the mayor’s office to find out more about the Community Water and Waste Innovation Pilot and to see if there is any timeline for the city to actually deploy the handwashing stations funded last year.

2.The Renton Chamber of Commerce issued a statement on Facebook over the weekend defending the organization and its director, Diane Dobson, against unspecified allegations of racism.

The statement read, in part, “The Chief Executive Officer of the Greater Renton Chamber of Commerce, Diane Dobson, has been a tireless champion in standing against racism and bias. She has worked to drive diversity, equity and inclusion through numerous community events and actions aimed at addressing racism in our community. The Chamber Board of Directors unanimously stands with and supports Diane as she continues to make a meaningful, positive difference in our community and region.”

A look through the comments on the post clarifies what it’s about. During the recent snowstorm, a woman (identified in by her male companion as “Robin”) threw snowballs at the car of an Asian-American passerby and—according to the text accompanying the video he took after he got out of his car to confront her—called him a “fucking ch*nk.” In the video, posted on the Youtube channel RevealKarens, the man asks the apparently intoxicated woman repeatedly why she used that term, as she grows more and more agitated and finally says she did it because he was being “a dick.”

Eventually, according to the man’s account, Dobson came by and convinced the woman to leave. In subsequent comments on the Facebook thread, the person behind the Chamber account responded to criticism by praising Dobson in increasingly lavish terms, describing her “wonderful” work in the community and referring to “reports we have received of her donations of masks to the School District for teachers and staff and many of the front line workers in essential nonprofits as well.” The responses became so focused on Dobson, the person, rather than the Chamber as an entity that many commenters assumed that the  person posting for the Chamber was Dobson herself.

Dobson’s name has appeared in PubliCola before. She has been a vocal opponent of a shelter at the Red Lion Hotel in downtown Renton and onto city streets, blaming its homeless residents for the economic downturn in downtown Renton, and reportedly threatened to revoke an LGBTQ+ organization’s Chamber membership over their advocacy in favor of the shelter.

3. Lightning-round election news:

Brianna Thomas, a legislative aide to council president and mayoral candidate Lorena González, will make her candidacy for González’ position official later this week. (González is relinquishing her seat to run for mayor.) Thomas ran once before, in 2015, for the West Seattle council seat now occupied by Lisa Herbold. Continue reading “Street Sinks Stalled, Racism in Renton, and an Election Lightning Round”

Dear Mayor Durkan: A Letter From a City Employee

Editor’s note: The writer of this letter requested anonymity in order to protect their job at the city of Seattle. This letter has been very lightly edited for style.

I am a City employee. I am white. And I am disgusted by Mayor Durkan and Seattle City Council. I write to you anonymously, as my City employer has recently provided guidance that we employees are not to speak with media, and I firmly believe that my job would be in jeopardy were I to attach my name.

This week, amidst the backdrop of protests across the country related to police abuse of force and the disparate impact of this unchecked force on communities of color, particularly Black Americans, Mayor Jenny Durkan stood in front of protestors in Seattle and sought to draw some parallel between the experience of her Irish ancestors and that of Black Americans. This is not the first time she has evidenced a total lack of understanding, appreciation, or humility as it relates to communities of color.

Here, the story is familiarly white and dominant—that the savior (Durkan) blessed an undeserving African American (Best), not because she had earned it, but to placate a protesting minority community.  Gratitude should flow.

I was an employee at the Seattle Police Department the day that Mayor Durkan announced her appointment of Carmen Best to Chief of Police, following a botched selection process conducted in secrecy that left final decision-making in the hands of unaccountable actors selected by the mayor, with no oversight. Following an uproar from the community—largely rooted in the racial implications—after Best was eliminated from consideration for unknown reasons, Durkan reversed course and not only agreed to reconsider Best, but appointed her to the permanent position in August 2018.

Beware the framing of this as a win, when in fact the process itself was so broken that it did more harm than good. Had the process been transparent, legitimate, and competent, Best—a 26-year veteran to the force, a Black woman—would have been lauded and rewarded for her very real achievements. Instead, she became Chief of Police with a permanent asterisk attached to her promotion —not because she didn’t deserve it, but because white dominant culture moved her through a flawed process that humiliated her and eroded trust in the legitimacy of that process, while also reinforcing racist tropes that the success of communities of color comes only at the benevolent hands of a white savior. Here, the story is familiarly white and dominant—that the savior (Durkan) blessed an undeserving African American (Best), not because she had earned it, but to placate a protesting minority community.  Gratitude should flow.

No white mayor of any major city, having once been a federal prosecutor, has lived in any space devoid of privilege.

I worked for the City when the mayor nominated Jason Johnson to direct the Human Services Department, and then withdrew his nomination amidst a surge of grievances expressed by department employees and City council members that the process had been flawed, and carried with it serious racial implications.  Again, the mayor evinced a tone deafness, responding by installing Jason as an interim director indefinitely, as if her personal pride were more important than the ongoing trauma woven into the fabric American racism. And, as leadership under the interim director has borne out, promoting people unqualified to the challenges of the times ensures a legacy of destruction and oppression, as they, in turn, preside over the hiring of more people unprepared to lead on these issues.

As a City employee, I have sat in numerous rooms when the mayor has mentioned the fact that she was the first out lesbian federal prosecutor in the United States in response to direct questions about how she plans to address the very real concerns of institutional racism in the City’s administrative, social, and political structures. No white mayor of any major city, having once been a federal prosecutor, has lived in any space devoid of privilege.    Continue reading “Dear Mayor Durkan: A Letter From a City Employee”